Yasmin Faruki, SSP'18
Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs
Yasmin Faruki is the proud daughter of a single mother who inspired her passion for foreign affairs and pursuit of public service. Her mother fled East Pakistan and lived in Italy during her father’s diplomatic stint with the World Food Program (WFP) before settling in the United States to pursue a career in higher education. A polyglot herself who worked as a community college counselor and hosted generations of foreign exchange students to help meet the family’s rent, Yasmin remembers her mother instilling the importance of language, travel, and giving back to the country that welcomed her.
The attacks on 9/11 motivated Yasmin to study Arabic and the Middle East to help her grapple with her identity as a young Muslim American. In addition, Yasmin was a nationally competitive policy debater who was interested in studying U.S. foreign policy, particularly during the insurgency in Iraq and Arab Spring. She was thrilled to have been offered a scholarship to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where she could dive deep into these topics.
As an undergraduate student, when not burned out from intensive Arabic language study, Yasmin continued her passion for debate by joining Georgetown’s Model United Nations Team. She also took full advantage of the university’s study abroad opportunities and location in DC to intern at various think tanks, where she gained exposure to different foreign policy thinkers. Her interest in counterterrorism led her to become a research assistant for Professor Dan Byman, who ultimately encouraged her to apply for the accelerated joint BSFS/MSFS program in Security Studies.
While at SSP, Yasmin supplemented her background in Middle East Regional Studies with more courses focused on national security. She assigned great value to the quality of professors, saying, ‘’I could learn just about anything as long as the professor was motivating.” She recalls some of her favorite courses with adjunct professors Keith Hrebenak (any course), Lt. Gen Dubik (The Ethics of War), Chris Swift (National Security Law in the Age of Terror), and Dr. Colin Kahl (U.S. Strategy in the Middle East Post 9-11).
Her SSP memories, however, are not limited to her experiences in the classroom. “One of my favorite memories is when Professor Kahl took us to visit the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) for our first class.’’ And the SSP-MSFS football game is still one of Yasmin’s favorite SSP memories, especially when her all-female quarterback team secured the win against MSFS.
After her first year of SSP, Yasmin took a sabbatical after receiving Boren and Fulbright Fellowships to Jordan, where she worked with the UN Development Program on a project related to Syrian host refugee communities. When she returned to Washington to finish her master’s degree, she had the great privilege to follow one of her mentors and work at WestExec Advisors, a strategic advisory firm.
After graduation, Yasmin returned to Jordan to pursue a unique opportunity to be a vetting specialist for Mercy Corps, an American NGO. In her role, she researched local partners and vendors in Jordan who supported Mercy Corps’ programs in Syria. While abroad, Yasmin gained experience managing a multinational team, coordinating research across various countries, and practicing her Arabic in a professional context. After two years in the role, Mercy Corps asked her to bring her programming perspective to the policy and advisory team in DC, where she later led the Afghanistan portfolio immediately before the U.S. withdrawal in August 2021. She also led the Yemen portfolio during one of the most consequential years in Yemen’s seven-year conflict, including a field mission to Yemen immediately before the conflict’s ceasefire in March 2022.
After working at the Mercy Corps for more than three years, Yasmin received a call from the White House Liaison Office (WHLO) with the opportunity of a lifetime – to become a political appointee in the Biden-Harris Administration. She jumped at the opportunity, not knowing exactly what the job would have in store.
Today, as a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, Yasmin advises senior policymakers and manages the Department’s relationship with Congress. In many ways, she works with Congress to advance the very narrative that her immigrant family instilled in her - that the world is brighter when America is engaged in it.
In terms of advice for future SSPers, Yasmin notes the importance of finding good mentors and applying to foreign study fellowships. She says, ‘’It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of DC to focus on doing your job, but it is crucially important - particularly for women of color - to find mentors who will nurture you and invest in your professional development.” On study abroad, she notes, “There is no better time to immerse yourself fully in another culture than in school. The language skills and perspective you gain will distinguish you from peers who have only spent their lives in the DC bubble.” And finally, she regrets she did not socialize enough with her cohort while balancing a full-time job and course load. “If you can afford not to work and study full-time, don’t. Carve out the time to really get to know your cohort, attend the happy hours, and bond with your peers.”